The Bird Chasing Moratorium continues.....
Moosetastic is NOT a word. Moospectacular is also not a word just as tit-tastic from last week’s blog was not a word…but I think I’m getting ahead of myself. I spent last week in Armstrong, Ontario. A hamlet located in the boreal forest 175 miles or so north of Thunder Bay, Ontario. Armstrong (not to be confused with the ‘other’ Armstrong, Ontario over near Quebec) is famous for four things: It had a NORAD base (or associated system) from 1952-1972, it is a waypoint on the transcontinental CN railway, it is a fly-out fishing takeoff point, and it is famous for its bugs….gosh do they have bugs.
You may think that birding is my only passion but if so, you have thought wrong. If you read the introduction to my 2013 adventure, Boobies, Peckers, and Tits you would learn that after I didn’t die in 1985, I made a “Bucket List” per se. The number one item on that list was to catch a 20 lb northern pike. Something that it took me until October 2, 1997 to do.
I have lived for catching pike at least since as a small child, I saw a shirt-tailed cousin, Gary Brenizer catch a small one. I was hooked. Since then, I have at times, eat, drank, and slept, northern pike. My first pike over 10 lbs was caught on January 1, 1978 through the ice. I skipped school to go pike fishing. My first date with my wife was that we met at what was basically a small pond, Lone Star Lake north of Webster, WI and went pike fishing in the winter. I caught a 5 lb fish and the woman of my dreams. I spent every single winter break day fishing for the toothy buggers during my years in school. I got saved, pike fishing with Pastor Bob Merritt on Little Dunham Lake, my secret spot for years. I place that oddly used to have a dance hall on it where my Grandparents (Danielson) met. My first boat at aged 16 was named the Esox Gator, my second Esox Hunter, and third Esox Magnum. Esox the genus of pike and muskies. Over the years, I have caught well in excess of 10,000 pike, I used to have detailed notes and lists.
My favorite family photos are all my relatives holding trophy fish. Grandma Lucille holding a massive South Dakota pike caught on the ice is my favorite. My fishing notes on obscure lakes would put a bird lister to shame. I am comfortable in my pike fishing skills and through the ice or in a boat would accept a challenge from anyone.
I was 31 when I caught my first 20 lb fish (it was actually over 30 lbs and a 48” fish) but I landed from a boat 7 20 lb plus fish for other people in the years previously, driving and functionally finding all of those people their life fish for them. (That number is over 30 now, almost too many large pike to appreciate fully).
I knocked off my Muskie Bucket list items, many years earlier, so completely that for me, I haven’t even gone Muskie fishing in years as it would spoil some amazing days. I had a day in August 1988 on the Chippewa Flowage in Wisconsin that defied fishing. The story is just too much, even for fishermen to believe. It was the equivalent of shooting a 53 in golf, not just a 59. When the second lifer sized muskie missed my lure and landed in the boat one would call that the story of a lifetime. It would have shocked me, too except it had also happened an hour earlier. That was two of dozens of Muskie caught on the two wildest days of muskie fishing anywhere ever. When in 1992, I looked at a huge 60” muskie played out at the side of my trusted Esox Hunter, and realized there was no way I could ever get it in the boat, I was longer than the boat was wide. I cut the line and knew my best days of fishing for that species were behind me. I have not fished for the species since.
For me it seemed, with pike now, I never got my chance. In those years of landing and pointing out the locations of their prized fish, I learned some valuable life lessons. First, one needs to hang around and be around to get a chance, I knew I would get my chance if I just kept at it. Fishing is luck, big pike are in areas and sometimes, they are on the left side of the boat when you are on the right and the guy on the right gets it, BUT YOU HAVE TO BE FISHING!
Secondly, it is never good if a life goal comes easily and right away. Look at childhood TV or music stars or if you buy your first stock for a buck and three days later it is bought out for 30 bucks. It ruins your perspective. Muskie fishing ended up that way for me. My daughter caught what is probably her life northern at aged 15, a 24.5 pound brute, and I shot my largest deer at aged 14, I (her) didn't appreciate the significance of that. Maturity is good to appreciate things better. At 31 I could better understand pike than at aged 13, even 23. After children, a large fish was put in the perspective of importance in life. It isn't too important...As are rare birds..even big years...
Catching many big fish takes hard work. I've endured exhausting days of casting heavy lures hundreds of times a day, and bad weather, cold days, cut hands, and at the end of the day, 99% of fishermen don't appreciative the work to catch what we do. I've fallen asleep in the boat driving home, even once driving the boat. "Hey, I'd like to catch some big pike. Where can I go to do that?" Many I've guided have given up after an hour to go fish walleye over the side of the boat as their arms were too sore. Success in life isn't meant to be easy but yes, for some....it is.
Thirdly, I like experiencing other's joy in catching fish. My daughter catching her monster, was priceless. We all have a tendency to gloat and in my case, instead of gloating, it was more of a relief when I crossed off item #1 on my list. I was actually moose hunting at the time. Oddly my second and third 20 lb plus fish came just two days later., an hour apart, having given up hunting to hunt big pike....the chance changed to my favor, and since then my boat always has caught the biggest fish on Canadian trips, sometimes I did, sometimes my boat partner did. Lastly, I learned something from fishing in Sweden, there IS always a bigger fish (I had a pike that was beyond imagination follow my lure to the boat, 40, 50, 60, even 70 lbs, it was so big I couldn't size it. I freaked out my guide so I knew it was big.....it all doesn't really matter in the greater scheme of life. Like if my life list is 791 or 855 or whatever. It is all personal.
With the philosophy of big fishing in tow.....My family trip to Smoothrock Lake came upon me two days after returning from the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. I've fished this lake since 1985, and maybe spent 2% of my life on this lake fishing. In those years, I've caught a lot of pike. I've flown with drunk pilots. I've hit rocks. I've had to wait out storms on islands (once with a bunch of Earlham College students/ faculty where I composed a book on a Quaker student). i've been attacked by bugs and bears. I've blown an engine on a boat. I've been ill. I've eaten blueberries until I almost burst. This year......despite my sister having to visit the ER in Thunder Bay on the way up (the 6 hour wait cured her, I think) it was all good.
We ate our fill of walleye and shockingly (sic) caught, and released pike. My boat caught 9 or the 11 largest pike (of course)
Son Allwin with a 31 incher,
Silja caught a nice 31" Northern pike on a jig, walleye fishing with daughter Lauren at the helm of her boat. It was a really cold day
he just about fell in the lake releasing it. We catch and release all northern pike. No net is ever used in my boat. All of those years of ice fishing have taught me how to grab pike correctly without dropping them. I haven't even eaten a pike in 25 years. I think we have to work on that technique with him in the future or he could go everboard.
"L" has never not won the biggest Pike prize, 3 for 3.
We usually see moose on occasion but this year, they were everywhere, for me at least....on the road...and unfortunately in all of my pike bays, typically screwing up the fishing wallowing in the water, the big bull watched my daughter catch her trophy fish about 50 yards away from him
This year for a change.....NO BEARS!!
There were a family of woodchuck under the fish cleaning hut...entertaining the younger crowd and frustrating the management.....they were eroding the foundation....I suspect the groundhogs would not be back in 2018
I did go birding, I'm always birding....the best bird was never photographed asI was pulling in a pike when a large white crane flew overhead. Definitely a Whooping Crane, might be quite the rarity for Ontario. Not even a year bird for me, and I'm sure the ebird reviewer will just ignore such a sighting but I've never even seen a sandhill on that lake and a single large white crane with black on wings.....hum, hard to miss ID that.
white throated sparrow, in camp
Always a little tame fishing with the family on this trip. No drunken exploits all day fishing tales etc, It takes the men trip in August to get serious, (ly crazy) but we had fun. I witnessed all of my children catching large fish and I pulled out every one of the gators, that was my highlight.
the 4th generation of fisher people...here.
It was a good trip....there was an equal amount of blood in the bottom of the boat from fish and humans (a good sign in my fishing) ...and then the plane came,...
It took us off apparently just before the Game Wardens showed up late and almost waking the baby of my sister, who stayed an extra day....not that we were doing anything illegal but they always have something to scold you about. Crap this year, my wife actually had 2 fishing licenses.....maybe they'd fine her for that. Our fire in 2013 had an incomplete ring of rocks and there was too much water with the fish...sigh......they seem to be people who hate fishermen those MNR types. One year they stopped me 9 miles from camp to do a fishing survey. I responded. "It was pretty good until you showed up." Then they asked me what I caught. "Two Barracuda and a tuna" I replied "but we threw them back...too salty to eat. Barracuda is not a fish you should ever keep. I'm sure you know that already." They left with us saying nothing about our fishing.
A final look at the trip that was 2017...my favorite activity, shore lunch!!! Tyko, Silja, and L...Lonebreast Bay
We drove home in the rain. We arrived at 0330 AM to the house. We awoke the next day to my wife's 51st birthday.....her birthday present arrived just in time....
Wife has a new decked out ranch truck. Happy birthday Silja! My bribe for 2016.....you have to like a wife that goes pike fishing with you, floats a river looking for rare chickadees, likes to build fires, and drives a pickup truck! She also likes to listen to the soundtrack from the Muppet Movie but 4 out of 5 isn't bad.
life is good.......Moose tastic!
Take a kid fishing!!